What are the Most Common Causes of Painful Swollen Feet?

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  • Written By: Marlene de Wilde
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 05 July 2019
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The most common causes of painful swollen feet are pregnancy or obesity; diseases of the joints such as arthritis; a diet high in salt and carbohydrates; trauma; and kidney, heart, liver, or blood vessel conditions. Foot pain and swollen feet can be caused by localized conditions such as injury, or be a symptom of a condition that is affecting the whole body. Foot edema, or swelling of the feet, can be indicative of a serious problem, and persistent conditions should always be checked by a doctor.

The feet are each made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments, and bear all of a person's body weight. Pregnancy and obesity are both conditions that can obstruct the circulatory system, cause vascular swelling, and put a lot of pressure on the feet. When there is an excessive buildup of fluid in the tissues of the foot muscles, the feet swell and feel uncomfortable. This is the result of gravity pulling the fluid to the lower extremities.

Conditions such as arthritis affect the joints of the ankle and foot, which can lead to swelling. Persistent swelling, especially if accompanied by weight gain and breathing difficulties, and any swelling that breaks, damages, or ulcerates the skin could be symptoms of a serious condition. In this case, a doctor should be consulted.


Other causes of painful swollen feet are sodium retention, taking birth control or hormone replacement therapy pills, varicose veins, allergies, and abuse of laxatives, diuretics or drugs. Ill-fitting shoes and the constant use of high heels can also lead to damaged feet. Sedentary lifestyles and desk-bound jobs can be responsible for painful swollen feet, as sitting for long periods of time results in fluid pooling in the legs.

The treatment of painful swollen feet depends on the cause. As a first measure, legs should be elevated above the level of the heart. This position makes it easier for the body to pump blood out of the legs and for excessive fluid that has pooled in the legs to drain back into the body. If long periods of sitting cannot be avoided, occasional short periods of walking should be introduced every couple of hours.

Excess weight and lack of exercise can be remedied by weight loss and the introduction of an exercise program. Sodium intake should be decreased, and water intake increased. The use of compression or support socks can also help circulation. Cases resulting from kidney and heart problems should be placed under medical supervision immediately.



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